(Beyond Pesticides, March 24, 2011) Rep. Jean Schmidt of Ohio, a Republican member of Congress and the House Agriculture Committee, which has jurisdiction over pesticide registration law, wants taxpayers to pay for the research of new chemicals to manage bedbugs and has introduced an earmarked bill to establish a government panel and grants for chemical product research. Rep Schmidt’s bill, H.R. 967, the Bed Bug Management, Prevention and Research Act of 2011 is hailed by the pest control industry because it will push for expedited use of chemicals in the fight against bedbugs just as many in the industry are shifting to integrated pest management (IPM) practices that focus on non-chemical methods utilizing pest exclusion techniques, steam treatment, and other non-toxic methods.
Using funds appropriated to carry out this Act, three grants will be awarded to State agencies to conduct a pilot program under which political subdivisions of the State and housing authorities in the State use the grant funds to supplement on-going bed bug prevention and mitigation activities. Though the bill does not specify Ohio by name, it states that “At least one of the three grants shall be awarded to one such State agency that, before November 1, 2009, submitted a public health exemption request under section 18, which proposed a use of a pesticide to control bed bugs, but which was voluntarily canceled under section 6(f).”
In 2009, the State of Ohio, dealing with infestation in several major cities, petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to approve the indoor use of the pesticide propoxur. The agency considers propoxur to be a probable carcinogen and, due to concerns posed to children, banned it for in-home use in 2007. About 25 other states supported Ohio’s request for an emergency exemption. In comments to the agency objecting to the petition for propoxur, Beyond Pesticides and other environmental and public health advocates urged the agency to reject the request, citing numerous serious public health threats associated with the chemical, as well as the availability of alternatives. EPA rejected Ohio’s petition in June 2010.
In addition, H.R. 967 amends the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) to make it easier and faster to register new pesticide products. The announcement for this bill comes at the heels of another bill, H.R 872, Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011 which will weaken the Clean Water Act (CWA) requirement to evaluate local impacts of pesticide use on waterways across the nation.
The bill also amends FIFRA to include bed bugs in the definition of “Vector Organisms” along with cockroaches, despite the fact that there have been no known cases of diseases transmitted through these pests. The bill will also expedite the approval or registration of the pest control methods that are identified by the grant-supported research by utilizing some known loopholes, including sections 18 (emergency exemption) and 24 (special local needs) under FIFRA.
It also establish a research program authorizing the use of grants to develop efficacy tests for minimum risk chemicals and for identifying new methods of managing bed bugs. There is no specific mention of what kind of management techniques are to be used, however given that the purpose of the bill is to expedite the approval of pesticides, and given that these grants will be determined through the help of a task force made up of representatives of the pest control industry, among others, it is most likely that the new methods will be chemical oriented.
H.R. 967 authorizes funds to provide subsidized treatments for low and fixed income people. These funds are to be used to hire commercial applicators to provide control that is proven to be effective, to purchase and distribute mattress covers, to conduct bed bug monitoring activities and to treat used mattresses and furniture using methods proven to control all life stages of bed bugs. Steam and heat treatments are both proven to kill all stages of bed bugs safely; however there is no specific mention in the bill for what particular method is to be used.
Unfortunately, this bill misses the mark as a comprehensive solution to the current bed bug problem in the U.S. The resurgence of bed bugs in recent years is believed to be caused in large part by increasingly widespread pesticide resistance. Public anxiety about the pests and drastic attempts to stem the spread through various means often includes the use of highly toxic and harmful chemicals. The bottom line is that chemical treatments are often more harmful than the bed bugs themselves. Fortunately, they are also not actually necessary, as these pests can be effectively controlled with non-toxic approaches. An Integrative Pest Management (IPM) approach, which includes methods such as vacuuming, steaming, and exposing the bugs to high heat can control an infestation without dangerous side effects. This approach, as well as taking steps such as sealing cracks and crevices, reducing clutter and encasing mattresses can also help to prevent an infestation in the first place. Beyond Pesticides has put together a bed bug program page which includes a detailed fact sheet discussing bed bugs, the problems with pesticide treatments, and alternative control methods.
Additionally, Beyond Pesticides’ 29th National Pesticide Forum, Sustainable Community: Practical solutions for health and the environment, will address issues of pesticide resistance and includes a workshop on managing bed bugs and other pests without toxic pesticides. Entomologist and extension specialist at Rutgers University and national expert on bed bug control Changlu Wang, PhD will be speaking. His research focuses on developing new and improved urban pest management technologies through the study of biology, behavior, and ecology of urban pests. His goal is to identify cost-effective and environmentally friendly solutions that will immediately benefit the consumers. Currently, Dr. Wang’s research is focused on bed bug and cockroach resistance to commonly used pesticides and least toxic control strategies. The conference will be in held in Denver, CO April 8-9, 2011. More information, including how to register, can be found at www.beyondpesticides.org/forum.